Letícia Marteleto, Ph.D.

Photo of Leticia Marteleto

Presidential Penn Compact Professor of Sociology

McNeil 230

Letícia Marteleto is a social demographer who uses data, cultural knowledge and sociological theory to understand inequality and its intersections with fertility, education and health. Letícia Marteleto is Penn Presidential Compact Professor at the Department of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is also a research affiliate of the Population Studies Center and a faculty member in the Graduate Group in Demography.

Her work is motivated by the central question of how social and economic disadvantages and demographic change intertwine in low- and middle-income countries with persistently high levels of inequality at times when widely held social and demographic norms are in flux. In her latest research, Marteleto has been examining how structural shocks such as the Zika and COVID-19 novel infectious disease crises impact women’s lives. She is currently the principal investigator of DZC (Demographic Consequences of Epidemics in Brazil), an R01 funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

The goal of this large data collection effort in Zika’s epicenter (and, later, one of COVID-19’s epicenters), Brazil, is to answer a number of questions about women’s reproductive outcomes in the face of epidemics. Have women changed their reproductive preferences and behaviors in response to the Zika epidemic? Have women from different socioeconomic backgrounds responded differently to the fear of the Zika epidemic? The findings have shown that many women in Brazil feared the intrauterine consequences of Zika infection and attempted to avoid pregnancy. Disadvantaged women, however, more often faced obstacles to contracepting. This resulted in differing fertility patterns during the epidemic, with the sharpest declines in births observed among highly educated and younger women. Findings were covered by national and international media and through op-eds (The Conversation, The Washington PostAustin American-Statesman and Houston Chronicle), interviews (The Economist, BBC News) and in invited lectures nationally and internationally (Stanford, UCLA, and London School of Economics). Now, those findings have an extended life by providing important insights into how the back-to-back Zika and Covid-19 public health crises have profoundly changed how women go about their reproductive preferences and behaviors, suggesting a scarring effect of one novel infectious disease outbreak to another.

Marteleto’s research is also breaking methodological ground by implementing an innovative data collection effort that includes a combination of contact and non-contact modes of interview during and after the pandemic. She and her team are following a population-representative sample of women (the first panel in Brazil) via phone, Whatsapp, web, and face-to-face. The project also includes focus groups and semi-structured interviews.

Marteleto’s work has appeared in flagship journals in sociology, demography and other disciplines, such as Demography, Population and Development Review, Social Forces and Plos-One. Professor Marteleto’s research has been funded by several foundations, such as the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the Spencer Foundation. Prior to the University of Pennsylvania, Marteleto taught at the University of Texas, the University of Michigan and Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil.